MANILA, Philippines – An executive order to dissolve the newly formed Negros Island Region (NIR) is ready for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature, according to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
Speaking to reporters in Malacañang on Tuesday, October 11, Diokno said the executive order may be signed "anytime soon." He added that the decision to dissolve the region was made in the last Cabinet meeting on October 3.
"Kailan ba last Cabinet meeting namin? Last, last Monday, may decision na," he said.
(When was our last Cabinet meeting? Last, last Monday, there was already a decision.)
The EO, if signed, will repeal the EO signed by signed by former president Benigno Aquino III on May 29, 2015. It separated Negros Occidental from Western Visayas or Region VI, and Negros Oriental from Central Visayas or Region VII. (READ: FAST FACTS: The Negros Island Region)
Diokno said it was he who told Duterte the creation of the region would be heavy on the wallet. (READ: Negrenses weigh in on possible dissolution of Negros Island Region)
"When we came in, I was confronted with a P19-billion request by various agencies for that new region. I said, that's not affordable, we have other priorities," said the Budget Secretary.
Duterte has listened to local government officials from Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental, the two provinces that comprise the region.
But Diokno said Duterte was more convinced by the argument that the new region would be too costly.
"Well, you don't want to spend P19 billion for such two-province region. In any event, with the federalism, that region will not be created, parang useless 'yun (so it seems useless)," said Diokno.
If the EO is signed, the "status quo" remains, with services provided to Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental by the regions they previously belonged to, said Diokno.
Funds meant for the creation of the NIR are not in the proposed 2017 national budget.
Diokno sought to address concerns that dissolving the region would stunt the development of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental.
He said "new technology" will enable the speedy provision of government services to these provinces.
"For example, you're from Negros, what is your concern? License? Anytime you want you can access – if the record of the National Statistics Office is good – you don't have to appear personally in one province versus another," said Diokno in a mix of English and Filipino.
The creation of the NIR was endorsed by then-interior secretary Manuel Roxas II, who ran for president in the May 2016 elections.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.